Notes and observations from MSU’s first open practice

We’re halfway through Mississippi State’s day of open practices, as the morning group made up of mostly first-teamers and freshmen just finished work. Like Dr. Dre, I was out there with a pen and a pad taking notes as I watched, the highlights of which I’ll share here.

Keep in mind, players were not wearing pads, so there was very little contact.

A few quick notes before we get into observations:

  • Injured safety Nickoe Whitley was a full participant in practice, both in positional and team drills. If he’s feeling any pain or going slow, you couldn’t tell from the sideline.
  • Senior offensive guard Tobias Smith, recovering from a knee injury, worked with his fellow linemen in positional drills, but sat out the team portion of the practice. He told reporters afterwards that he feels great, but is limited in what he can do.
  • The updated roster was released today and kicker Brian Egan, the starter in the spring, was not on it. However, MSU has several freshmen on the team who were likely to take the kickoff and field goal kicking jobs anyway.
  • Senior cornerback Corey Broomfield, who Dan Mullen said yesterday will be playing some safety, did not appear to be participating in practice, for reasons unknown.

My biggest impressions came from two position groups: the quarterbacks and the defensive backs. Junior Tyler Russell and freshman walk-on Jamil Golden both came out strong, with crisp, generally-accurate passes.

The problem? MSU’s cornerbacks were absolutely blanketing the receivers. True freshman Cedric Jiles, who Russell immediately mentioned when asked about the defense, had several pass break-ups, including a few on-the-numbers passes to senior receiver Brandon Heavens.

Russell also mentioned true freshman Will Redmond, a corner who showed some speed and athleticism, getting to receivers and keeping several from catching deep passes.

The highlight of the day probably came early in practice in 1-on-1 drills. Russell was zipping in passes to his receivers on short post routes as the corners shadowed them in a drill that generally favors the offense. Near the end of the session, senior Chad Bumphis sprinted off the line, dug his feet in the ground and turned a sharp left before looking back at Russell. Just as the ball was nearing his outstretched hands, senior cornerback Johnthan Banks swooped in, knocked the ball to the ground and yelled at Russell, “It’s a different day, Tyler!”

Next up: a few notes from the coaches and players, then a few from myself.

  • Les Koenning said redshirt freshman receiver Joe Morrow practiced well, but that he wants more consistency out of him.
  • Koenning also said he was impressed with Golden, the walk-on quarterback who was once courted by Arkansas and Vanderbilt. For his first week with the team, Koenning said, Golden was surprisingly comfortable.
  • In addition to Jiles, Russell said he was impressed with Redmond, saying the whole defensive backfield is a talented group. On offense, Russell said Morrow is a nice target to have as the tallest receiver out there, and he said he was also happy to get senior tight end Marcus Green back out there, particularly with Malcolm Johnson recovering from his injury.
  • Redshirt freshman Benardrick McKinney, likely the starting middle linebacker, was one of the stars of the practice, earning praise from both defensive coordinator Chris Wilson and senior linebacker Cam Lawrence after snagging an interception on a Golden pass that went through the outstretched hands of receiver Robert Johnson.

Now, a few notable plays I scribbled down while watching (and tweeting).

  • In skeleton drills (no linemen) Robert Johnson had several nice snags, including a deep catch over Redmond that would have been a touchdown.
  • Early on in those skeleton drills, Morrow struggled a bit and on one deep pass, Whitley managed to grab an interception after it tipped off of Morrow’s hands on a jump ball.
  • The skeleton drills ended with a superb play by junior outside linebacker Deontae Skinner, who made a diving pass break-up at the line of scrimmage.
  • Practice ended with full-team, 11-on11 drills, and this is when things got fun.
  • Early on, Russell threw a deep pass to Morrow who nearly made the catch down the sideline, but Whitley and Jiles combined to bat the ball down before Morrow could get to it.
  • Bumphis had one particularly impressive catch, coming back on an underthrown Russell pass and catching the ball around freshman Deontay Evans as he fell to the ground.
  • While he may be labeled a “pocket quarterback,” Russell was on the run often as many of the plays were designed roll-outs to either side of the field.
  • One of the more entertaining plays came in goal-line drills, and once again, it involved Russell, Banks and Bumphis. Russell threw a tight-spiraled pass to Bumphis just across the goal line, with Banks tight in coverage. The senior corner muscled his way in and batted the pass down, but saving grace for the offense came in the form of Morrow, who slid in the near pylon and snagged the deflected ball for a touchdown.
  • The team drills and the entire practice ended on a pretty pass by Golden, a fade to Sam Williams near the back pylon for a score.

MSU’s practice tonight at 7 with the other half of the team is also open to the public and the media, so we’ll have plenty more on the blog for your after-dinner perusal.

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